Making The Tough Command Decisions in Life

We all have to make tough decisions in life from the day we realize we are about to enter a wider world. For some, that day happens when they turn sixteen. For others, it happens even earlier when life throws them a curve ball: leaving home, getting kicked out of home, being taken away by social services and then suddenly declared to be emancipated.

For those who have the safety and security of a loving home, choosing to go to college is a tough one. Do you want to go far away and “be yourself” or stay closer to home and commute? Or for those sense a higher calling, go into the military to serve your country, or going to the ministry? Throw in whom you’ll marry, where to settle down, whether to have children, how to raise those children, and suddenly, things begin to snowball as you go through life.

Add in the workplace and another organization where you find yourself in a leadership position. The question is not “Can I make the tough calls?”; it is now “What tough decisions do I have to make?”

I’ve been looking at the Old Testament book of Joshua and been meditating on the story of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. It is a story that has miracles and unlikely war plans; it is also a story of consecration, of trusting God (if you are Christian) when things don’t make sense, and of treachery.

Right after the fall of Jericho, the Israelites are moving through southeast Canaan and advancing northwards. They come to a place called Ai. Without really consulting God or coming up with a good game plan, the Israelites try to assault the city. Besieging a city is a military art and science in the ancient world. Perhaps it is not a surprise that the Israelites got driven off. Worse, they got reamed. A small group of 3000 went to take the city and were driven off. Thirty six Israelites died. (Joshua 7)

Naturally, Joshua complained to God. Why did we fail? Why did we lose? And what do you really want from us? Probably the same questions a losing team might ask a coach?

Coach, why did we lose? You put us through a lot of training only for us to lose horribly?

What do you say? What do you do then? A person comes to you and says: “Boss/ Coach/ General/ Mr. President, what do we do now?”

Get up!

That’s the first thing God says to Joshua. Get up, consecrate yourself, and remove the sin from the organization. While an organization might not have any overt or covert sins that was debilitating, the first command is the focus. Get up. Don’t run from the tough decision.

Joshua, to his credit, did not agonize for too long. Instead, the next day, he called for the convocation to do something about their defeat at Ai.

Get the Facts Straight

It is easy for leaders to forget to get the facts straights. They may feel the pressure to do something. And do something now! Leaders want to be seen as decisive!

I remember when I was applying for colleges twenty years ago that my mom sought out three women who ran a career counseling and guidance business for high school seniors and helping them through the college application process. These three women worked with me: getting my SAT scores, working on my application essays, and several personal interviews to get a good sense of who I am, what my interests are, and which schools best fit. They had chosen the University of Chicago – a top school but willing to accept lower SAT scores, and a good fit for my interests. It was the right call and I have never regretted it. What made these women even better was that they sent a freshmen package to help me succeed the first weeks and year of college.

Same when I was applying to law school. Again, somehow, I had to have help. Someone worked with me through my LSAT prep, the application process, and which schools to apply to based on my scores. But for my grad program, it was all me. By then, I knew what I was looking for, which schools had what I wanted, and the online program. There was always research – to get all the facts straight.

The Bible says that God told Joshua he would present the tribe, then the clan, and then the family who had committed the theft of the spoils. No specifics were given. We know that in other parts of the Bible, people drew lots or consulted a Umin and Thummin for advice.

I am pretty sure it was not a pair of dice:
Roll 1-7, you’re safe.
Roll 7-12, you’re guilty.

The story continues in Joshua 7 that when the lot fell to Achan and his family, Joshua asked Achan to confess. The man did confess. Now, several commentaries that I read pointed out this fact: at any given point, before the lot fell on Achan, he could have confessed his deed.
1) He could have confessed before the convocation was called.
2) He could have confessed during the separation of the tribes.
3) He could have confessed during the separation of the clans.

Achan’s confession confirmed that he was indeed the guilty party.

But wait! You might object that no one ever gets all the facts during decision time. Everyone operates on imperfect data! No one can ever be 100% certain! Everyone hedges it with 95% bell curve distribution certainty. Analysis Paralysis!

I get that. In fact, we’re more like Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back. Luke had seen a vision of his friends dying and ran off to save them… only for him to confront Darth Vader before Luke was ready. Luke’s arm got cut off and he learned that Vader IS his father.

This does not mean we don’t try to get the facts right. We all can think of times when we waited to get the facts first and were grateful that we did. And we can also think of times when we should have waited. When is the right time? It takes a lot of wisdom from your own life and the life of others to figure this out.

The Organization and the Mission Are First

This last one might sound very counter-intuitive, especially for those who are more ‘F’ than ‘T’ on the MBPT. What I mean is this: everyone wants to be nice and friendly; no one wants to be the bringer of bad news. No one wants to be the guy who makes the decision that ends a relationship.

However, the leader at this time is not a friend. He’s the leader. Think of the coaches on an Olympics team. Pick any sport and it is still the same. Let’s say the coach can take only 10 people to the Olympics. There are 200 candidates. The top 8 slots are clearly the top candidates. Who takes the last 2 slots?
1. Does he take the long shots?
2. Or does he take two people who can work together with the other eight?
3. Does politics (race, religion…) come into this?

At some point, the coach will have to think of the organization and the mission. Which two candidates have the best chances of winning the gold? The coach will have to tell the other 190 hopefuls that they did not make the cut. It can be a very difficult decision, especially if he or she might be friends with them. That coach can’t be everyone’s friend or the nice guy (or girl).

I know a lot of organizations publicly say that people come first, that their mission statement is to help people, but if you read carefully between the lines, if a person acts against the interests of the company through fraud, embezzlement, theft, or other malicious act, guess what happens? That person is probably fired and might even go to prison.

In the book Extreme Ownership, which I have referred to once in a previous post, the authors mentioned a client who had two executive vice presidents who were at odds with each other and had even accused the other of going to a competitor. The author’s solution: fire them both. Don’t take sides. Don’t waste the effort in figuring which vice president was in the right. Think of the organization first. Both had become toxic.

The same happened with Achan. He and his family were stoned to the death. It sounds horrible; how can theft be a capital offense? In most countries, theft is not a capital offense unless someone dies (felony murder rule) during the commission. I think we miss the point; there are times when the organization and its mission has to come first. That we can be too fixated on people to realize that there are some things greater than a person’s individual rights and comforts. That if you allow one person to go unpunished, it will encourage other acts of disobedience.

Balancing individual rights and responsibilities versus an organization or even a country can be a pain. Some countries and cultures choose the collective over the individual. Collective guilt, honor and shame are the watch words. In a more democratic society like America, we seem to favor the individual more but not at the expense of the organization.

Either way, a leader is supposed to uphold a team‘s integrity and honor just as much as he or she does for the individuals on the team.

And yes, sometimes, it is Damn the Torpedoes! Full speed ahead!

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